Can you target ‘problem areas’ with your workout?

Month-long ab challenges are not the way to a washboard stomach, experts say. Corey Jenkins

Today’s craze for 30-day fitness challenges that involve daily planks or squats are a considerable step up from the ThighMasters and Ab Rockers of the past, but ultimately they’re all promising the same goal: to spot train so-called “problem areas.”

The only problem is that doing one workout over and over won’t actually produce results.

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“Doing a bunch of crunches or planks won’t give you six-pack abs unless you have no body fat to begin with,” says Kathleen Trotter, a Toronto-based trainer and author of Finding Your Fit. “To change a body part, you need to do three things: strength train, interval train, and most importantly, change your nutrition.”

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For most people, the goal is to get “cut” and see the muscle definition in their body, but unless you burn the subcutaneous fat (which sits just underneath the skin), those muscles will never be visible. And in order to burn fat, you’ll need to employ the mix of fitness approaches and nutrition in particular, that Trotter outlines.

“Nutrition is what’s going to get you to lose body fat, not squats,” she says. “Some people will be successful with a 30-day squat challenge if they’re eating really well, but that’s due to the diet change more than the activity.”

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In a small study conducted on obese women, researchers found that after 12 weeks of dividing the group up into dieters and dieters who also did ab exercises, there was no significant difference in the amount of weight or inches they lost around their midsection. Similarly, a study conducted on tennis players in the 1970s found that there was no difference in the thickness of fat on the players’ dominant arms versus their non-dominant ones, thus negating the notion of “spot reduction.”

“Exercising is always healthy and I encourage it, but know that if you don’t eat well, while you will become functionally stronger and have a better shape overall, you won’t see the muscle ‘cuts,'” Trotter says.

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As for those 30-day challenges that are so popular on social media, she says they’re a recipe for injury.

“They’re very unholistic. Most people can’t handle the amount of squats they’re expected to do by the end of the challenge, and it can lead to an injury that will derail your fitness,” she says. “The concept of doing something for 30 days is good because it’s motivating, but you need to take a balanced approach, instead of focusing on a singular exercise.”

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The more muscles you target, the better your chances of getting the results you want. Trotter breaks down the most effective workout moves to target the different areas of your body, and stresses that combining them over the course of your three- or four-day workout program will make an overall difference.

Best for lower body:

Best for upper body:

Best for core:

Best for full body:

“Try mixing it up with squats and lunges on Monday, upper body on Tuesday, core work on Wednesday and interval cardio training on Thursday,” Trotter says. “The idea is to be balanced with your workout and not focus on one particular area.”


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